ARLINGTON, Texas – Ohio State’s third game of the season against TCU at AT&T Stadium was fully expected to be a tougher challenge than its 77-31 win over Oregon State and 52-3 win over Rutgers.
Yet it perhaps proved to be an even tougher challenge than most people expected.
While the Buckeyes ultimately earned a 40-28 win over the Horned Frogs on Saturday night, it took a second-half comeback after struggles on both sides of the ball for them to ultimately prevail and improve to 3-0.
Ohio State didn’t score an offensive touchdown for the first 38 minutes of Saturday’s game. The defense gave up four touchdowns in the first three quarters of the game. Until a stretch in the third quarter where the Buckeyes scored 20 points in four minutes and one second on a 63-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Parris Campbell, a 28-yard interception return touchdown by Dre’Mont Jones and a 24-yard touchdown pass from Dwayne Haskins to K.J. Hill, the Buckeyes trailed 21-13 in the game – and appeared to be in serious jeopardy of losing their marquee non-conference game against a Big 12 opponent for the second year in a row.
Ultimately, though, the Buckeyes prevailed, and now, they have their first big-game win under their belt and a game that should serve as a valuable learning experience for the rest of the season to come.
“We got punched in the mouth,” Haskins said after the game. “You got to remember it’s a fight. You’re going to get punched. So you got to be able to rebound, and we did that second half.”
Even with a defensive touchdown in the first quarter scored when Davon Hamilton recovered a Shawn Robinson fumble forced by Nick Bosa in the end zone, Ohio State trailed 14-13 at halftime after failing to score a single touchdown on any of its six first-half offensive possessions, only coming away with six first-half points created by the offense – two field goals by Sean Nuernberger, who missed a third attempt.
The defense, of course, also gave up two touchdowns – including a 93-yard run to TCU’s Darius Anderson, the longest play from scrimmage allowed by Ohio State’s defense in school history.
Yet even though they were trailing at halftime after never trailing in their first two games of the year, the Buckeyes said they felt confident at the break that they would come back and win the game.
“We all looked each other in the eye, and said, ‘Look, this game’s not over. We’re only down by a point,’” Jones said. “And that’s the worst half of football we’ve probably played this season. We have so much room to grow, we knew we can come out with a W, because we trust in each other and we trust in our unit and we trust in our acting head coach that he can lead us to the victory.”
“We got punched in the mouth. You got to remember it’s a fight. You’re going to get punched. So you got to be able to rebound, and we did that second half.”– Dwayne Haskins
Saturday’s game wasn’t just the first time this season that Ohio State had to battle back in a game, but the first time that acting head coach Ryan Day ever had to do so as a head coach. But in a game where Day and the Buckeyes clearly needed to make halftime adjustments, he and the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff proved they were up to the task.
“We knew there was going to be ebbs and flows in a game like this,” Day said. “We talked about how everything is not going to go perfect. There were times in the two weeks previously where things really went well for us. And we knew that there were going to be times we hit adversity and that we have to stick together in times like that. I thought we did.”
Even in the second half, the Buckeyes faced adversity. Their best defensive player, Nick Bosa, left the game with an injury on their first series of the second half. Anderson ran for his second touchdown of the game on the Horned Frogs’ second offensive possession of the half, giving them their biggest lead of the game.
But after the three-touchdown stretch later in the third quarter, the Buckeyes maintained the lead for the rest of the game – although they did give up one more big-play touchdown on a 51-yard throw from Robinson to TreVontae Hights – and ended up with their most important win of the season to date.
“We really turned the momentum in the third quarter there,” Day said. “I think we had 20 points in a short period of time. So I thought that was the big difference in the game.”
While Saturday was the first time Ohio State had to overcome in-game adversity this season, it certainly won’t be the last. The Buckeyes have plenty more tough games to come on their schedule, including a trip to Penn State – where they lost two years ago, and needed two overtimes to win two years before that (in a season in which they were ultimately national champions) – in two weeks (Sept. 29).
Now, though, the Buckeyes have a tough game under their belt to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they can battle back against a strong opponent – and they believe that was an important early hurdle for them to overcome in their quest to compete for a championship.
“Honestly, I feel like we really did need it, because it helped us see where we are as a team,” said defensive tackle Robert Landers. “When we have to face true adversity. And I feel like we really handled it well tonight.”
Next time the Buckeyes have to battle back in a game, Urban Meyer will be the head man calling the shots from the sideline, as his suspension has now officially come to an end. But Day will still play a key role for the Buckeyes as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he too expects Saturday’s game to be one they will draw from as the rest of the season progresses.
“It gives us some precedence moving forward,” Day said. “You can always go back on this and show that, when things don't go well, we can stick together; that when we hit adversity, we can work our way through it.
“And that's always a question. When you go up against somebody like TCU, a really well-coached team, really talented team … and we get in a tough spot, we're down, how are you going to respond? You really don't know that. You practice every day. You think you know how you're going to respond. But to see how the guys responded today gives us something to look back on.”